Refugees and asylum-seekers were at risk of forcible return. People detained pending extradition had no possibility to challenge the legality of extradition and detention. The authorities failed to respond adequately to racist attacks. Reports of torture and ill-treatment in police detention continued, and perpetrators of human rights violations enjoyed impunity. Freedom of assembly continued to be under threat.
Rights of refugees and asylum-seekers
Ukraine continued to violate the right to asylum by failing to provide adequate and fair asylum procedures and by refoulement, or forcibly returning asylum-seekers and refugees to countries where they faced the risk of serious human rights violations. During the year Amnesty International raised four cases of refoulement with the Ukrainian government. On 25 August, changes to a Council of Ministers Regulation governing the entry of foreigners and stateless persons to Ukraine came into force. This required nationals of listed countries and stateless people to carry at least 12,620 Ukrainian hryvna (about €1,000). The application of this new regulation to asylum-seekers was contrary to international refugee law, and it amounted to refoulement.
- On 31 August, six nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) arrived at Boryspil airport, but were not allowed to leave the airport and were deported to the DRC via Dubai on 2 September. Reportedly, one of them was beaten when he tried to claim asylum; his claim was ignored and he was then drugged to make him sleep. According to the State Border Guard Service, the DRC nationals were not allowed to enter Ukraine because they had less than €1,000 each.
- The Prosecutor General exercised his right to oversee the legality of all court decisions and overturned the decisions which had granted refugee status to 15 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, Belarus and Uzbekistan. He based his decision on minor omissions, such as the absence of a medical check or the failure to document employment in the country of origin. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, these do not constitute legitimate grounds to refuse refugee status. The asylum-seekers had no avenue of appeal against decisions of the Prosecutor General.
Torture and other Ill-treatment/impunity
There were continued reports of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials and of the authorities’ failure to carry out effective and independent investigations into such allegations. Between January and October, 13 human rights NGOs belonging to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union received 165 complaints about torture and other ill-treatment, of which 100 related to police actions. Ukraine ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture in 2006, but had still not set up a national mechanism for monitoring places of detention in accordance with its obligations under the Protocol.
- On 24 March, Vadim Glavatyi was sentenced at Podil regional court to nine years’ imprisonment for rape and robbery. He appealed against the sentence and the appeal was pending at the end of the year. Since September 2006, Vadim Glavatyi had reportedly been subjected to torture and other-ill-treatment on three occasions by police officers from Podil district police station to make him confess, first to robbery, and then to rape, resulting in injuries which required hospital treatment. In October, the Kyiv Prosecutor replied to a letter from Amnesty International stating that there were no grounds to start criminal proceedings against officers of Podil police station. The letter stated that other police officers from Podil police station were investigating the alleged ill-treatment by their colleagues.
Limited steps were taken to counter racially motivated crimes and to make statistics available. Despite a joint instruction on 6 February by the Prosecutor General’s office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to collect data on racist crimes and results of investigations, no statistics were available by the end of the year. Racially motivated crimes continued to be prosecuted as “hooliganism” with no recognition of the racist element of the crime. According to the Diversity Initiative, a coalition of local NGOs and international organizations, 23 racist incidents were recorded up to October. During this period seven criminal cases were opened into racist incidents, all under charges of “hooliganism”.
- In interviews recorded by the Vinnytsya Human Rights Group three asylum-seekers from Somalia stated that they were detained and taken to a police station on 28 February, where two of them were beaten by police officers, reportedly in revenge for the kidnapping of Ukrainian sailors by Somali pirates. The allegations were denied by the Vinnytsya District Prosecutor’s office. UNHCR received an assurance from the Prosecutor General’s office that another investigation would be conducted but no results were communicated. Later the Vinnytsya Human Rights Group was informally notified that the two alleged perpetrators were no longer employed by the police.
Prisoner of conscience
Ukrainian legislation failed to provide any procedure for those detained awaiting extradition to challenge the legality of their extradition and of their detention.
- On 7 July, the Balaklava district court refused to consider an appeal by Igor Koktysh against his detention pending extradition to Belarus, confirming the absence of any remedy within the extradition procedure. Igor Koktysh had been detained since 25 June 2007 following an application by Belarus for his extradition to face a charge of murder, a crime which carries the death penalty in Belarus. He had already been acquitted of this charge and released in 2001, and the Supreme Court had confirmed the verdict on 1 February 2002. On 11 April 2002, the Prosecutor General of Belarus appealed against the acquittal and the case was returned to court for a retrial. Igor Koktysh was an opposition activist and worked to rehabilitate young drug users. He moved to Ukraine in October 2003 where he continued to support the Belarusian opposition during the presidential elections in 2006. In October 2007, he applied to the European Court of Human Rights against his extradition and detention. The court urged Ukraine not to extradite him to Belarus until it had considered his case, and the possibility that the charge against Igor Koktysh had been fabricated by the Belarusian authorities to punish him for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.
Freedom of assembly
On 3 June, the parliament approved the draft Law on Assembly at its first reading. The draft law had been criticized by NGOs for its failure to comply with international human rights standards. It required five days’ notice before any action, and made no allowance for spontaneous gatherings; it allowed the use of force by law enforcement officers with no requirement for restraint, and it failed to incorporate the duty of the state to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly was respected.
On 27 January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution welcoming the conviction of three former police officers for the murder of the investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze, but called for the instigators and organizers to be held to account “without regard to the rank and position of the suspects”. Georgiy Gongadze disappeared on 22 July 2000, and his headless body was found in November the same year. On 23 July, nine years after the disappearance, Oleksiy Pukach, a former lieutenant general in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was arrested and charged with the killing.